1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Elche

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ELCHE, a town of eastern Spain, in the province of Alicante, on the river Vinalapo. Pop. (1900) 27,308. Elche is the meeting-place of three railways, from Novelda, Alicante and Murcia. It contains no building of high architectural merit, except, perhaps, the collegiate church of Santa Maria, with its lofty blue-tiled dome and fine west doorway. But the costume and physiognomy of the inhabitants, the narrow streets and flat-roofed, whitewashed houses, and more than all, the thousands of palm-trees in its gardens and fields, give the place a strikingly Oriental aspect, and render it unique among the cities of Spain. The cultivation of the palm is indeed the principal occupation; and though the dates are inferior to those of the Barbary States, upwards of 22,500 tons are annually exported. The blanched fronds are also sold in large quantities for the processions of Palm Sunday, and after they have received the blessing of the priest they are regarded throughout Spain as certain defences against lightning. Other thriving local industries include the manufacture of oil, soap, flour, leather, alcohol and esparto grass rugs. The harbour of Elche is Santa Pola (pop. 4100), situated 6 m. E.S.E., where the Vinalapo enters the Mediterranean, after forming the wide lagoon known as the Albufera de Elche.

Elche is usually identified with the Iberian Helike, afterwards the Roman colony of Ilici or Illici. From the 8th century to the 13th it was held by the Moors, who finally failed to recapture it from the Spaniards in 1332.